Notes on the Mind – Body connection

Subtle body from 1899 yoga manuscript. Public domain.

Subtle body from 1899 yoga manuscript. Public domain.

One of the key themes emerging for me this year, both in living and blogging, involves mental hygiene, in particular, watching what ideas and thoughts I dwell on. I tried to express it in posts like Guarding the Mind and The Wishing Tree Revisited. Cheri Huber a Zen teacher, sums it up like this: “The quality of your life depends on the focus of your attention.”

As I check out things online, I bookmark articles that look like they might lead to interesting posts. Several recent posts center on a parallel theme,  the intimate connection of mind and body.

The first comes from Julieanne Victoria’s blog, Through the Peacock’s Eyes. In a post called, Effect of Thought on Health and the Body, she describes a small book by James Allen, amazing because of its visionary nature – it was written in 1902 and published in 1920.

Nowadays we’re used to seeing people practice Tai Chi in parks. We find yoga classes at local gyms and hear of corporate executives learning mindfulness meditation. A discussion of the ends and means for lifting such practices out of traditional contexts is a topic for another time. The point is, general awareness of the mind-body connection snowballed in the west in the latter half of the 20th century. I think it’s just beginning, which makes James Allen’s conclusions, penned 112 years ago, all the more unique.  Check out Julieanne Victoria’s post. It is inspiring to read these words of a man who understood these truths before almost anyone else in our culture.

One manifestation of the mind-body connection that everyone knows about involves stress. Stress is bad and A-Types have it worst, right? What if you learned, as I did in a recent NPR article, that almost all of the studies that created “stress” and “A-Type” as modern words and concepts were funded by big tobacco companies, seeking to prove that stress and not cigarettes, cause heart problems and cancer? This article is an eye opener, and not because of this single topic. It’s illuminating to see how far money can go in creating the “truths” we try to live by.

The final post that caught my attention comes from the Scientific American BlogWhat does Mindfulness Meditation do for your brain. Leaving aside all questions of what might be lost in separating mindfulness practice from it’s Buddhist context, the benefits appear to be compelling:

“It’s been accepted as a useful therapy for anxiety and depression for around a decade…It’s being explored by schools, pro sports teams and military units to enhance performance, and is showing promise as a way of helping sufferers of chronic pain, addiction and tinnitus, too. There is even some evidence that mindfulness can help with the symptoms of certain physical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, and HIV.”

Beyond these experiential findings, the Scientific American post presents a powerful physiological finding. MRI scans of people after an eight week mindfulness meditation course show the amygdala shrinking. This is the brain’s fight or flight center, associated with emotion and fear. At the same time, the pre-frontal cortex, “associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making,” becomes thicker. In addition, brain links are altered: “The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.”

These few posts are just the barest notes on a huge topic, but one I find fascinating. I’ll be posting more as I see more interesting stories along these lines.

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12 Responses to Notes on the Mind – Body connection

  1. Thank you for the mention! Namaste _/l\_

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  2. Great post! I loved Julie’s as well.

    Stop thinking long enough to connect with Prana and you are free.

    By learning to work with Prana/Chi, instead of against it, our subtle body may also realign our thoughts, not just the other way around.

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    • I’ve been to several daylong retreats on Qi Gong over the last three years, and am really impressed with the way even a brief routine can balance out the inner energies. I’ve also done yoga (though sporadically lately) since my mid 20’s, so I’m with you on that score!

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  3. Tish Farrell says:

    The key benchmark of what makes us human is generally seen to be our intelligence. It is something of a paradox, then, that in Western society it has taken us so long to understand the power of our thinking, and that even our unconscious mind determines so many bodily effects – creating new neural pathways not the least of them, or that the chemicals released by anxiety can become addictive, so embedding the behaviour. Interesting stuff, Morgan. I look forward to more posts on this crucially important topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m rereading two books with parallel themes & will review them here soon. And regarding intelligence, I’ve always liked the Tibetan tradition of locating “mind” at the heart center, for in this view, “mind” encompasses thoughts, feelings, and all objects of awareness. “Brain” is a physical organ, located in the skull. In this view, “mind” is where we point when we say, “This is me.”

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  4. hannahgivens says:

    I have anxiety and have just recently started mindfulness meditation, in an extremely unstructured and inconsistent way, but even so it’s an instant help. :)

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    • I’m very pleased to hear that, Hannah. I think it’s useful to practice with a group now and then if you can find one that’s a good fit. That collective effort can help with motivation or various pitfalls along the way. But I remember hearing one teacher say, “Just start out simple. Meditating for five minutes in the morning and five in the evening will change your life.”

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      • hannahgivens says:

        Doing anything in a group ramps up the anxiety issue, and trying out groups to find a good one is basically the worst thing ever, but I may at some point. :)

        I’d tried breathing exercises in the past and they didn’t help, basically just made me feel like I was suffocating. I read one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books and the way he explained it finally made it actually be as simple as other people claim it is, so I tried it, and it’s awesome. Like you say, taking five or six minutes makes a huge difference, it’s like a reset button for my brain!

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  5. Thanks for this very interesting post. I am sending the link to my sister, who I think will also find it most interesting.

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